A fascinating exploration of the Middle Ages through the lives of Geoffrey Chaucer's pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales.
The Middle Ages were turbulent times. In the fourteenth century alone, England was ravaged by war, plague, revolt and the overthrow of a king. Among the surviving records, the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer is the most vivid. But what does it tell us about the everyday lives of medieval men and women? What did people eat, wear, read and think?
Through the assorted cast of pilgrims Chaucer selected for The Canterbury Tales, Liza Picard brings medieval social history to life. These are lives led beyond the court circles frequented by most of Chaucer's well-heeled audience - lives spent at the pedal of a loom or in uncharted waters on the high seas.
Chaucer would sometimes raise a thought-provoking query in an apparently simple portrait. The Prioress was a sweet, pretty, well-mannered young nun; what was she doing on the road to Canterbury with a mixed band of men, instead of staying in her convent to pray? The Knight was 'a very perfect gentle knight'; but why had his military service landed him in such distant places as Lithuania and Spain? By providing these characters with a three-dimensional framework - the times in which they lived - Picard opens up the fourteenth-century world to us. Drawing on contemporary experiences of a vast range of subjects including trade, religion, toe-curling remedies and hair-raising recipes, Chaucer's People recreates the medieval world in all its glorious detail.
Liza Picard was born in 1927. She is the bestselling author an acclaimed series of books on the history of London: Elizabeth's London, Restoration London, Dr Johnson's London and Victorian London. Her most recent book, Chaucer's People, explores the Middle Ages through the lives of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales.
She read law at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn, but did not practise. She worked for many years in the office of the Solicitor of the Inland Revenue before retiring to become a full-time author. She lives in London.
Liza Picard, a chronicler of London society across the centuries, now weaves an infinity of small details into an arresting tapestry of life in 14th-century England. Her technique - pursued with the verve and spirit for which she is already justly admired - is to celebrate Chaucer's pilgrim portraits by resituating them within an enlarged field of medieval practices and assumptions ... Picard concludes with a speculative Chaucer continuation ... Most notably, she - a woman who has herself lived long and thought much - creates an inner monologue for the Wife of Bath, who, after visiting the shrine, drifts into a Molly Bloomian soliloquy, reflecting on the pros, cons, and possible personal advantages of taking the veil. As in the rest of the book, we here encounter not presumption but homage, an enthusiast enacting her respect for Chaucer's enduring and indelible accomplishment — Paul Strohm, The Spectator
Chaucer's pilgrims are the first historical characters who feel like real people, and now Liza Picard makes their world as vivid and three-dimensional as the merry band themselves. Chaucer's People is a holiday in the complex, joyful, indelicate medieval world - an approachable, engaging and highly recommended account of an England which is long gone, but whose spirit lingers — John Higgs, author of Watling Street
As you read this book, Chaucer's writing gains a depth and pungency it usually lacks ... Sometimes these snippets, in their oddness, distance the toiling pilgrims from us. At others, they bring them much closer ... There is a Chaucerian pleasure in plain sentences, plainly written. This is more almanac than argument, but no less enjoyable for that. If you were to reread The Canterbury Tales, you'd get so much more from it with this at your side ... And there are some excellent titbits — Catherine Nixey, The Times
Wonderfully readable and full of delights ... It buoyed me up with its brilliant insights, many of them entirely new to me — John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor
Engaging and fun ... The premise of this entertaining book is to provide historical context for the multitude of figures in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is well researched and packed with intriguing nuggets - from the etymology of the word "haberdasher" (from an old Icelandic word meaning a pedlar's sack), to the story of Richard Steris, "one of the cunningest players at the tenys in England", and a wonderful selection of medieval recipes ... Picard provides a wealth of detail both about the occupations of the various characters, and the wider contexts in which they operated. The section on the overwhelmingly complex nature of medieval law is particularly clear and effective — Hannah Skoda, BBC History Magazine
Chaucer's fourteenth-century story collection The Canterbury Tales is a classic hook on which to hang an exploration of the Middle Ages, and this take pleasingly spirals outwards to cover the characters (the nun, the knight, the miller) and the lives they would have led — History Revealed
Instructive fun ... The writing is always lively, and there are excellent colour illustrations — Dr G. R. Evans, Church Times
Brings to life the social history of a period we still know little about. A jolly good read for historians — This England